Whittle: CAF could bring bonus to Smyrna

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SMYRNA - This is not the first dance between the Commemorative Air Force and Smyrna/Rutherford Airport Authority officials.

Back in 1991, Smyrna, Murfreesboro and Rutherford County political and civic leaders, headed by former U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Murfreesboro, his chief-of-staff Kent Syler and then new Smyrna Airport Authority's first Executive Director Steve Fitzhugh, attempted to woo the military aviation preservation group out of Midland, Tex.

At that time, the military aviation preservation group was known as the Confederate Air Force, but the name was changed to Commemorative in 2001 to get away from the controversial original name.

Fast forward to 2013 as Smyrna Airport is again being considered as a permanent CAF landing field.
"We expect a decision by Jan. 1," a CAF executive confirmed.

The impact of CAF coming to Middle Tennessee could be hugely impactful on the region's economy and the expanded name recognition of Smyrna Airport.

"CAF landing at Smyrna Airport, as a fixed base operation, could bring as many as 30 fulltime aviation-related jobs to Middle Tennessee's economy," confirmed Smyrna Airport Executive Director John Black.

But, new aviation jobs are not described as the biggest impact CAF could have locally.

"The CAF Air Power Museum, with its fleet of refurbished flying war machines, would bring thousands of new tourists to area hotels and restaurants," Black itemized. "That influx of new tourism dollars would trigger more jobs throughout the community and not just at the airport."

"And there's much more," Black confirmed.

"With the CAF's fleet of preserved war birds based here it would be feasible for Smyrna Airport to host a yearly air show instead of an air show every other year like we do now. That translates into millions of new tourism dollars.
"With the CAF's Museum and an annual air show, it would bring in aviators and tourists from throughout the U.S. and Europe resulting in worldwide recognition for our airport," Black added.

CAF Executive Director Steve Brown estimated the CAF's present-day annual air show triggers $12.3 million in tourism dollars for Texas.

"With Smyrna's long runways and widespread tarmac needed for big time air shows, the potential is there to exceed that $12.3 million annual tourism figure, which is the latest tourism figures we have in Texas," Brown shared.

Brown also estimated "25 to 30" fulltime jobs would come to Smyrna if the CAF decides to leave Texas.

"They're solid jobs with a great mission of preserving the history of U.S. military aviation," Brown added. "At any given time at the CAF Air Power Museum we have 15 to 20 refurbished war birds on display … ranging from the world's last flying B-29 Super Fortress (named FiFi on display recently at Smyrna Airport), two refurbished B-24 Liberators and multiple B-25 Mitchell bombers.

"These planes are huge tourist attractions," Brown noted. "The increased tourism, we feel, would be the biggest economic impact if the decision is made to locate in Middle Tennessee."

The Stones River National Battlefield and Music City USA's existing tourism industry also is being taken into consideration by CAF officials Brown confirmed.

"Smyrna's geographic location in the U.S. population center is another factor in consideration," Brown added.
The air field's impact dates back to when construction started on the original Army Air Corps base in 1939. After construction was finished, air troop and equipment deployment techniques were developed and refined that remain in military use around the globe today.

In a newspaper interview given in 1992, Smyrna resident Edwin Smith (now deceased) recalled "moving first dirt" in 1939.

"I used my Ford tractor and a small scoop in the beginning as we began moving dirt and leveling land for eventual construction of the long runways," Smith described. "And some area men and their mules were contracted to help move dirt and haul away trees and undergrowth. It was a big project that involved hundreds of local people in the initial land preparation."

The air base brought a lot of educated people to reside permanently in Rutherford County.

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Dan Whittle
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